Roger Douglas is retiring from politics. Again.
At the age of 74, this time it’s probably for good.
His record isn’t anywhere near as good as his supporters would seem to believe—and because the reforms for which he was responsible were done in part by stealth, and the architects of the Rogernomics revolution never bothered to foster a parallel revolution inside people’s heads, it was a record which led many to believe that the free market itself operated on stealth—and it poisoned a generation on the very idea of free-market reforms.
In that respect, he and his colleagues helped bring the ACT Party’s ever-worsening fortunes on themselves.
But on the other hand, his record is nothing like as bad as his critics would have you believe. The structure of political economy in which we live today is still the house that Douglas built, and even his harshest critics did nothing to alter his floor plan. And without his reconstruction, there would be many more grandparents than there are now around New Zealand mourning the loss of their children and grandchildren to richer pastures overseas.
New Zealand is a richer place today than it would have been without him. For that he deserves thanks.
As a politician he really only had four years in the sun, four years when he found the courage to admit to himself all he had previously thought was wrong—four years when, for all the blundering, he and his reforms (let’s admit it ourselves) rescued New Zealand from becoming the Polish shipyard it had almost become. Whatever else he did before or since, it will be those four years of crisis on which history will judge him. (And the best judge of that history in my estimation was not written by a bitter David Lange, but by the man who as the country’s “go-to” interviewer at the time saw it all up close: Lindsay Perigo.)
There are two great tragedies in Douglas’s late career.
The first is that a National Government facing another economic crisis and with no answers to meet it could not find it in their embittered souls to make use of his ability. There he sat for the last two years doing almost nothing while his coalition partner fiddled. What a waste.
The second tragedy is that he didn’t just sit quietly and do nothing for those last two years. Instead he was jetting off round the world to see his grandchildren, and charging to to the taxpayer’s tab—and when he was sprung for it he compounded his error by telling us to our face that he is “entitled” to dip into our pockets.
A sad final act for a man whose performance in his short time in the sun makes him a once-legendary player.
The irony now is that he plans in his final retirement to spend more time with his grandchildren.
My worry is that it will be us picking up the tab for all the frequent trips to see them.